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television: Summer Heats Up

The networks have finally caught on to cable’s ploy.

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The broadcast networks, however, are offering original programming this summer. It took them long enough. Ever since broadcast TV began, the Big Three networks have taken the summer off for the most part, leaving viewers to pick the rerun carcasses in June, July and August. The cable networks saw that the broadcast nets were abandoning the playing field in the hot and humid months, and moved in quickly. Five years ago the broadcast nets beat the cable nets by about 3 million prime-time viewers during the summer. Last summer, according to published reports, the numbers were far different: Some 11 million more people watched prime-time cable TV than broadcast TV.

This doesn’t mean the broadcast networks are suffering. (After all, the Top 10 are all broadcast net shows.) But they’re beginning to see that only the strongest of shows can survive a summer of reruns.

Which makes us the winners. We’re getting original shows in the summer on both cable and broadcast TV, and much of it is not reality programming.

Snoop Dogg has a new comedy show this summer on MTV. The USA Network has “The Peacemakers.” HBO is airing the last season of “Sex and the City.” USA has brought back “Monk” (which also aired on ABC last season). And A&E is airing an award-winning British drama, “Mi5.”

One of the best of this summer’s first-run offerings is a Fox network show that succeeds because of its execution more than for its originality. “Keen Eddie,” airing Tuesdays at 9, stars Mark Valley as Eddie Arlette, a screw-up New York police detective whose girlfriend just dumped him and whose latest drug bust went wrong. Assigned to follow a case to London, he so impresses his straight-laced Scotland Yard liaison that he’s hired full time.

The shooting and acting style on “Keen Eddie” are wildly kinetic. The direction relies heavily on jump cuts, split frames, sped-up zooms, and flashes backwards and forwards. The dialogue races along with snap and occasionally grace, and the drama relies on comedy to keep it bright and light. You have to stay on your toes to follow this one.

As Eddie, Valley faces British aplomb with American doggedness (not to mention his American dog, Pete). Valley comes by his style honestly. He’s a West Point graduate with a math degree who spent five years in the Army — including Operation Desert Storm — before being discovered by an agent in Berlin. If you think he looks familiar, it’s because he’s had recurring roles on “ER” and “Once and Again” in recent seasons.

For 50 years, viewers were left to fend for themselves during the summer. It was as if the networks locked the doors of their corporate offices and all went to the Hamptons to escape the heat, while we viewers lived on leftovers. And we didn’t like it.

Fortunately for us, with cable shouldering its way into the summertime mix and changing the rules, those days appear to be gone.

For us couch potatoes, life is now good 12 months every year.

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